How to be more mindful of your money

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I’ve been reading a lot about mindfulness lately. The practice is everywhere. It’s the new catch phrase in the office. It’s being used to teach kids in school. It has even found its way into the delivery room.

But it makes sense that people are drawn to this idea because its the antithesis to the world we’ve created: where we wear multi-tasking as a badge of honour, double and triple book our time and smugly boast about how “busy” we are when asked how things are going.

We try to focus on a million things at once until we’re so physically and mentally exhausted that we can’t focus on anything at all. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run around like a lunatic trying to get my shit out the door in the morning, only to arrive at work not remembering the drive in because my brain shut down the second my butt was in the car. It’s a vicious cycle of insanity and autopilot.

I’ve been on maternity leave for nearly nine months. I thought it would be a break from the rat race, but it isn’t. The race is still the same. It’s just different rats. I feel like the time is going by too fast, like I’m missing out on all the little moments that I should be making the most of because I’m still caught up in this need to always be getting shit done.

So I started reading about mindfulness. And the more I read, the more I realized that what I was learning could help in other areas of my life too — like my finances. Here’s how.

Continue reading How to be more mindful of your money

How to stay current with technology

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You may have seen the video of the adorable elderly couple trying to take a picture on their computer. Or the episode of Modern Family where Jay couldn’t understand the difference between clicking twice and double clicking.

I’ve heard stories from my call centre friends about customers who’ve washed their computer monitor in the dishwasher or tried to use their mouse as a foot pedal.

Old people and technology. I used to laugh at these stories.

And now I’m one of them.

Continue reading How to stay current with technology

How to change your kid’s behaviour

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One of the things that I looked forward to most about my maternity leave was the opportunity to spend more time with my older kids. To have some downtime with them between school and activities and the bazillion ‘to dos’ we fill our lives with. To connect with them, and get to know them better now that they were becoming their own little people with their own big personalities.

I had grand ideas of what life as a stay-at-home parent would be like: slow mornings and well-rested kids; pulling perfectly-timed cookies from the oven as they walk through the door after school; having actual discussions about their days, instead of the blunt Q&A of our current work-school routine.

“How was your day?”

“Fine.”

“What did you do?”

“Nothing”

But staying at home was not exactly as I’d expected. Instead of a calm, happy household, I found myself in a daily battle with two kids who wouldn’t listen to me and fought with each other all the time. Give it time, I told myself. We’d just brought a new baby into our house. We were all adjusting.

But time only seemed to make things worse, particularly with my son, who started struggling with his behaviour at school too. We started receiving notes from his Kindergarten teacher informing us when he had had a bad day, when he was being a distraction in class. What can I do to support him? she asked. But we didn’t know. If we could just make it to the end of the school year,  I thought, things will get better over the summer.

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They got worse. Sure, we had a great family vacation. We did a lot of fun things. But there were also a lot of days where it felt like every good moment was book-ended by bad ones. If I asked my son to do something, he ignored me. If I gave him a consequence, he ran away screaming and crying and saying “I hate you.” He harassed his sister. He mocked us. And no matter how angry we got, no matter how much we escalated the consequences, he rarely backed down.

When school started again, so did the notes from his new teacher. He wasn’t a mean kid, but he struggled with listening. Fortunately, we have had two great teachers who were committed to helping him focus and supporting his success at school. His new teacher started giving us daily updates on how he was doing. “Green” was a good day, “yellow” meant he’d struggled a bit and “red” was, well, not great. Please let him be green, I’d think as he walked in the door after school. Nope. Red again.

I didn’t want him to be “that kid.” I wanted him to feel good about school. I wanted him to be good at home. I didn’t know what to do to fix his behaviour. So one night, after a particularly bad day, I Googled, “Why is my kid acting like an asshole?” And this is the answer I got: Continue reading How to change your kid’s behaviour

Three steps to better money management

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When we found out we were having another baby, my husband and I decided that I should extend my maternity leave by tagging six months of unpaid leave to the end. There were a million great reasons to do this:

  • I’d have more time with the baby, and more time with our two older kids.
  • The time of my return to work would give us two full summers at home.
  • It would be (hopefully) easier to go back to work full-time with an 18-month-old than a one-year-old.
  • I could take the time without giving up my job.

There was really only one reason not to do it: Money. We’d structured our lives as a two-income family. We were adding another person to our mix (not cheap). And we were still renovating our home (really not cheap). If I was going to give up half a year’s salary, we had to make sure we could still manage our living expenses without taking on debt.

Easier said than done. Continue reading Three steps to better money management

Four lessons from my first real garden

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“There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.”
– Janet Kilburn-Phillips

My mom’s mom had a garden. A massive garden from which she grew enough food to feed 10 children, and countless relatives and friends. As a kid, I’d eat peas off the vine and slip into her greenhouse to inhale its warm, earthy scent. Now, my kids call her Pumpkin Grandma, because the pumpkin fairy visits her garden to mark her pumpkins with their names. Her garden is magic.

My dad’s mom had a garden. As kids, we raided it for raspberries to eat with cream and sugar. We inspected them for bugs before placing them in our bowls, even though my grandpa swore the bugs were good protein. We searched for juicy gems hidden in the strawberry patch, while grandma crouched between her perfect rows, keeping them spotless of weeds. Her garden was pristine.

My mom had a garden. She taught us how to plan our own small plots, to plant, water and weed. We started each season with gusto, and when our enthusiasm petered and the weeds took control, she sent us out to pull and hoe. We entered horticulture competitions, occasionally beating the local pros with our marigolds and dahlias. We picked carrots and ate them, crisp and fresh, with the slight graininess of dirt. We learned to work and to reap the rewards. Her garden was a classroom and a playground.

So you’d think that gardening would be in my blood, yet it has taken me ten years of gardening, on and off, to finally achieve a reasonable amount of success. This is what I’ve learned. Continue reading Four lessons from my first real garden

How to save thousands on your family vacation

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Ten years ago, within the span of a couple of months, my now husband and I moved to a new city, bought our first home, started new jobs and got married. Tackling four major life events in under 60 days was very exciting, but it was also incredibly expensive, leaving us with little money to fund a honeymoon.

But we were young and in love and in need of a break. So instead of completely forgoing a vacation, we bought a tent, packed up our Toyota Matrix and embarked on a 2,000 kilometre road trip to the West Coast.

This summer, to celebrate our 10-year anniversary, we decided to take a similar vacation — only this time, we’d be travelling with three little passengers in tow. We wanted our kids to share some of the experiences we’d had. We wanted to hear their breath catch in their throats as we travelled through the heart of the rocky mountains and see the excitement on their faces as they sidestepped crabs and jellyfish in the Pacific Ocean.

With a little planning, we were able to do all this and more, and keep our costs in check in the process. Here’s how. Continue reading How to save thousands on your family vacation